Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
It’s a toss-up between The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett and The Galton Case by Ross Macdonald. Hammett’s book, the first crime - as opposed to detective - novel, remains a marvel for its style, its complex, cynical grasp of urban politics and its deft exploration of manners, a crucial area for the hardboiled as much as the cosy side of the house. The Galton Case is The Great Gatsby of crime novels, with its inquiry into the father-son legacy, personal self-reinvention and the limits of the American dream; Macdonald squared the circle of hard-boiled action and social /psychological comment with masterful plotting. I honestly believe he’s still The Master; no-one else has even come close.
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Edmund Crispin’s Gervais Fen books. They’re absurdly snobbish, deeply silly, clever-clever Golden Age mysteries (although written in the late forties/ early fifties) laden with literary quotation, facetious humour and pretty much everything I don’t generally enjoy in a crime novel, but there’s something about them I find immensely comforting, particularly when you’ve just delivered a new book and are a) totally wrecked, and b) terrified to read anyone you normally would in case you remind yourself of just how good they are, and thereby of your own inadequacies.
Most satisfying writing moment?
One of them was the opening night of my first play, I Can’t Get Started – based on the life of Dashiell Hammett – at the 1990 Dublin Theatre Festival. The dawning realisation that the audience wasn’t going to walk out in boredom or fury, that they would in fact stay and applaud at the end, that a full house of people who wouldn’t have been at all upset if they’d hated it (Dublin audiences can be tough) apparently enjoyed an evening based on words I’d written ... there was pretty good drinking that night.
The best Irish crime novel is …?
I think I’ll stick with the dead, just to be on the safe side. Raymond Chandler could have played for Ireland in the Jack Charlton years: his mother was from Waterford. But that would be way too cheeky. But we can certainly claim C. Day Lewis, writing as Nicholas Blake – The Private Wound is set in the west of Ireland just before the second world war. Lots of dubious priests and ex-IRA malarkey.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
The Private Wound. It was in the works for a while, because I once had a meeting with the producers. I think Ronan Bennett did a screenplay – he did them all for a few years – but it doesn’t seem to have gone any further.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
The worst thing is the solitariness, and eventually the hours. But they can be the best things as well, although obviously the hours are a lot nicer when you’re happily starting a book than they are when you’re desperate to finish it. And while you don’t get to meet people at work, or leave the house, it’s nice some January mornings as the traffic backs up on the M50 and the sleet carries in on the wind to know that your commute to work is the arduous trek from the kitchen to the study.
Why does John Banville use a pseudonym for writing crime?
I wonder if it started as a hat-tip to Richard Stark AKA Donald Westlake, whom he has long admired. It strikes me that Benjamin Black is having a whale of a time writing crime. The question might well, be, will he ever use his John Banville nym again?
Who are you reading right now?
What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman is a stunning piece of work: psychologically complex, laced with shrewd wit, it draws you in delicately, without showing its hand; when the major revelation finally comes, it’s all the more shocking because you haven’t been entirely aware you were reading a thriller. And like everyone else, I’m loving Peter Temple: The Broken Shore is an absolute classic. At the moment, I’m in the middle of the second Jack Irish book, Black Tide. Great stuff. Jack Irish? We can claim him, can’t we?
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
John Connolly tends to have better words than most. Three he used to describe my first book were: Witty, violent and moving. I may blush, but who am I to argue?
Declan Hughes’ The Colour of Blood is available everywhere they appreciate good writing.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.